Trained in East Asian medicine in Japan and in psychology at Harvard, Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu teaches throughout Asia and at Stanford University. His Heartfulness program at Stanford combines traditional wisdom practices such as mindfulness with current science. Among his courses is “Transforming Self and Systems: Crossing Borders of Race, Nation, Gender, Sexuality, and Class.” His book, From Mindfulness to Heartfulness: Transforming Self and Society with Compassion (published February 2018), focuses on how mindfulness practices can contribute to a meaningful way of living with gratitude, compassion, and social responsibility.
In what sense does your hyphenated surname—Murphy-Shigematsu—speak to the integration that’s so present in your work?
I found a sense of purpose in making meaning of an existence that was created by two people from different worlds—an Irish-American father and a Japanese mother. They were people from different sides of a great war who came together in peace and created children.
Your career has shifted from providing individual psychotherapy to working exclusively with groups. What drew you in that direction?
With the one-to-one professional relationship, there is a hierarchy and power structure: The patient, client, always has less power than the professional caregiver. I found that limiting. I wanted to return to what…